Topic #65: Comfort
Just What I Needed by: Elsie
Blossom's Child by: Nina
A Small Consolation by: Cindy
His Comforting Embrace by: Helen
In The Bottom of a Bottle by: Miss Raye
Cold Comfort by: Lori
Man's Tears by: Paola
That by: Leah
Take My Hand by: Miss Raye
A Muddy Surprise by: Jo
A Clean Break by: Miss Raye
Just What I Needed
by: Elsie

As far as bad days go, this one ranks pretty high on the list. I keep telling myself that in the grand scheme of things, one bad day won’t matter much in the end. I’m sure even by next week, I won’t be able to recall just what had me so upset to begin with. But today, as I am standing in the freezing barn, wearing only one boot and torn pants, shivering with cold and an aching head, and things just keep going wrong, and nothing I do turns out quite the way I had planned; I can’t imagine anything much worse.

It all started early this morning. I woke up in the bunkhouse feeling horrible; a nasty headache had kept me up most the night as I tossed and turned in misery. Lying around being lazy wasn’t going to make my head stop pounding, so I decided to get up and face the day. When I slipped onto the cold floor and walked around the bunkhouse, I accidentally stepped on Kid’s hand. I didn’t mean to. Honest. But the look he shot me told me that I shouldn’t even bother apologizing. We got in an argument last night before shut-eye and it seemed that I hadn’t been forgiven yet.

As I was pulling up my britches over my long johns, I noticed a large tear in the knee. Normally, I would just ask Emma if she could stitch them up for me, but she was off visiting some friends for a few days. Lord knows I can’t sew to save my life, so I would just have to go about my business and hope the hole wouldn’t get bigger. How did it even get there in the first place?

I had just finished dressing when Teaspoon charged through the bunkhouse door, bringing with him a shot of cold wind and snow. The wind seemed to blow right into my torn pants and instantly chilled me to the bone.

“Boys!” he yelled, waking up anyone who was still managing to sleep through the wild and windy weather. “Time to get up and get to workin’ on your chores. I know it’s colder than sin out there, but the stock still needs fresh hay. Also look’s like most of the water froze last night, so you’ll have to make some trips to the creek. The good news is, that oughta warm you right up. As for the bad news, poor old me will be slavin’ over this hot, burning stove makin’ breakfast while you youngin’s are frolikin’ around outside, enjoying the fresh crisp air.” Teaspoon ran his thumbs under his suspenders and gave them his characteristic tug while he added, “Now I hope you boy’s appreciate the sacrifice I’m willing to make for y’all.”

As I was the only one dressed and ready to go, I pulled on my coat and headed out of the bunkhouse. Brrrrr! It was so unbelievably cold outside! I could feel my nose freezing from the inside out with each breath I took. I decided to start out by fetching some water from the creek. I grabbed a bucket and began the short walk, cursing the wind that bit into my cheeks, making my eyes tear up and my nose start to run.

The creek was partially frozen so I had to creep out a few feet to get to the running water. My left boot came down firmly on solid ice, followed by my right. I knew the next step was a mistake almost instantly. I heard the ice crack and then a loud splash. Before I could react my entire left leg was emerged in the bitterly cold water up to my thigh.

“You have got to be kidding me!” I yelled to no one in particular.

Jimmy chose at this moment to make his appearance. He sauntered up to me with that smirk on his face and said, “Whoo-wee! Somebody sure woke up on the wrong side of bed this mornin’. By the way, I was just noticin’ that it look’s like you could use some dry boots.”

I was so irritated, I couldn’t even respond to his teasing. And besides, my foot was starting to really hurt from being so cold. As luck would have it, I remembered that after my last ride, I had left a spare pair of boots in the tack room with the rest of my gear. So I limped as best I could back to the barn where I knew the rest of the boy’s were busy working.

The smell of fresh hay and horses usually soothed my spirits, but today the musty smell just seemed to make my headache even worse. My eyes were extremely sensitive to even the wan light inside the barn, and the sounds of pitchforks scraping across stall floors was like torture to my ears. As I walked down the center aisle towards the tack room, a great big mess of straw and manure rained down on me, launched from inside the stall that Cody was currently mucking out.

“Damn it Cody!,” I yelled, “why don’t you watch what you’re doing!”

Cody looked up and grinned when he saw where he had aimed his pitchfork. He didn’t even bat an eye when he said, “Now, it ain’t my fault that some of us are hard at work, while others are just standin’ around, gettin’ in the way. You should try makin’ yourself useful for a change.”

I noticed that his eyes began to sweep from my head to my feet, taking in my torn wet trousers and frosty frozen boot. “By the way,” he added with a mischievous gleam in his eye, “you might want to put on some dry clothes. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s a dang cold one today!” He then went back to work, finishing up with Sundance’s stall. I had to move quickly to dodge the next manure-loaded missile that went sailing into the middle of the aisle.

I finally made it to the tack room to retrieve my dry boots. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was that they weren’t in the same place as where I had left them. Instead of standing together by my saddle, they were scattered across the floor. I bent down and picked up the right one, quickly slipping out of my old one and into the relatively warm boot. Then I hopped across the room, tugging at the cold, wet boot that had stuck to my left foot, finally yanking it off. Trying to balance on one foot, I pulled on the other boot and immediately realized that something wasn’t right. I looked down and groaned. Where brown boot leather should have been, all I could see were five wriggling toes. Something had eaten a hole in my spare boot!

I let out a muffled scream of frustration at my bad luck. I was just about to leave the tack room when I began to hear a strange noise coming from beneath the Kid’s saddle. It almost sounded like a baby crying. I lifted the stirrup out of the way to take a peek and was shocked to see a bearded face with beady eyes and two pointy horns gazing out at me……….with a piece of chewed-up boot leather innocently hanging from it’s mouth.

“Ike!”, I yelled at the top of my voice. “Get in here right now!!!”

I could hear their hurried movements as Ike and the rest of the boys rushed into the tack room to see what the problem was.

*What’s wrong? Why did you yell?* Ike signed quickly.

“What’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong! That damned goat of yours ate my shoe!”

Ike and the other’s began to notice the shape I was in. My wet clothes, my torn britches, the dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep. I could tell that they were all trying not to laugh at my pitiful situation.

*Sorry about your boot. At least it wasn’t your saddle* Ike managed to say before his shoulder’s started to shake and his lips curved into a wide grin.

“Come on, back to work fella’s,” Kid said, looking at me with eyes that seemed to say, ‘you deserved everything you just got.’ Like I said, he hadn’t forgiven my yet for that argument.

And so here I am. Standing in the freezing barn, wearing only one boot and torn pants, shivering with cold and an aching head, and things just keep going wrong, and nothing I do turns out quite the way I had planned; I can’t imagine anything much worse.

Then, I catch a movement out of the corner of my eye. I turn to look, and he’s slowly walking over towards me. I don’t see any laughter in his face. I see nothing but a soft look in his eyes. I see compassion. I see sympathy. He comes closer and reaches out to me. I can’t believe this is happening! Why is he looking at me this way? I feel a nervous flutter in my stomach and my heart starts to beat a bit faster. He gently takes my chin in his hand, lifting my face so that I am staring at him right in the eyes.

“It’s alright Lou, it’s just a bad day. I promise tomorrow will be better. If you need anything, I’m here for you. All you have to do is ask.”

His voice is so gentle and soothing, warm tears spring into my eyes. I start to thank him for his kindness, but before I can speak he turns and starts to head out back into the barn. As he looks over his shoulder, he offers me a soft smile and for the first time that day, I smile back.

All of a sudden, I don’t feel so cold. My head feels clearer and my bad mood melts away. I’m amazed at how the simple words of a friend can warm me down into my soul. Isn’t it wonderful how easy a miserable morning can transform itself into a brand new day filled with such hope and promise? All it takes is a gentle voice and a sympathetic smile. I wonder if Buck truly knows what he has done for me today. I hope that some day soon I’ll be able to give him the simple gift that he as so generously given to me – comfort.

Blossom's Child
by: Nina

It was nothing like what he had imagined it would be. There was no St. Peter opening the gate to heaven, nor was there any Devil waiting for him at the gate of Hell. There just was. A person, when they leave their human bodies behind has one goal; to find rest and inner peace. It is something that one must find on his own, there is no one there to help you.

James Butler Hickok knew that he would never grow into old age – he had a reputation and there was always someone out to make a name for themselves. Looking at his grave now, Jimmy felt the urge to laugh. It was so strange seeing it and knowing that his earthly body was under the earth.

Standing up, Jimmy knew that he had a lot of work to do. There were some people that he had to visit, or haunt was more like it.

First there was the Kid and his wife Lou. They lived in Virginia now, on a small spread. Jimmy smiled as he knew that the small farm was the kind of place he would live in, had he ever gotten married. Walking through the doors, Jimmy knew where his two friends laid sleeping. Their life was just as he had imagined it. There was a picture of the Kid and Lou that was taken on their wedding day that sat on the dresser. Jimmy stopped to pick it up and looked at it. They looked so happy and even though the wedding was many years ago, Jimmy couldn’t help but to feel a hint of jealousy when Lou’s smile reminded him of the torch he used to carry for her. When he though about it, he never stopped carrying that torch.

The Kid lay sprawled in the bed, one arm safely around his wife’s body. The two belong together now as they did all those years ago.

Jimmy laid two lavender flowers on Kid’s hand so that they would find them come morning. Next on the list came Buck. Ever since the end of the Pony Express, Jimmy worried about his friend who belonged in no world. A smile came to Jimmy’s lips as he saw that Buck had finally found a place to belong; in the Kiowa village with his brother. Jimmy took a moment to admire the life that Buck had made for himself in the one-room teepee. Buck, like the Kid, had his arm around his wife, his head resting where her head and shoulder met. Two sons lay resting next to each other on the other side of the teepee. Their mouths made slight chewing motions, indicating that they were dreaming. Jimmy laid a lavender flower on Buck’s hand for his friend to find.

Cody had once told a tall tale about how he was going to become rich and famous. Jimmy lost that bet. Cody lived in the biggest house that Jimmy had ever seen, had his own traveling show and everything he had ever dreamed up. Jimmy couldn’t help but to smile at his friend and his antics. Cody had a big family and Jimmy gave up trying to count all the children that ran around the house playing and laughing. Jimmy laid the lavender flower on Cody’s bedside table atop a book, that way Cody would be sure to find it. Jimmy also paid visits to Sam, Emma and Rachel, making sure that all three would find a lavender that was meant just for them.

There was one more visit to make, and Jimmy smiled as he saw, Ike, Noah, and Teaspoon wave to him, greeting him to the otherworld.

A Small Consolation
by: Cindy

A/N: This story follows “Darkness” in Quick Fic #47.

Everything had been ripped from her. Kid, her husband, the owner of her heart, was dead. Her brother and sister were dead, ripped away even after she had brought them to a new place, a new life together. Mary Emma was dead, fated to be two years old for all eternity.

Everything was gone . . .

Except for the small hope that lay in the bed before her, fighting for life.

Lou looked down, watching her son’s small chest rise and fall. She spent a lot of time watching that very thing, assuring herself that he was, indeed, still alive. If that situation changed, well, then everything truly was lost, and there would be no reason to go on.

How quickly fate could change, turn on a person, make a happy life into one of despair. Less than two weeks ago, they’d all been gathered for Mary Emma’s birthday party. The little girl had celebrated by tightening the firm grip she had on everyone’s heart. She had a way of charming everyone who met her, and she truly had her Grandpa Teaspoon and Uncle Buck wrapped firmly around her little fingers.

Even four days ago, life had seemed good. She’d kissed the children good-bye, waved a joking farewell to her husband and siblings, and gone to town for supplies. She’d stopped to visit with Teaspoon and Buck, had coffee with Polly, and headed home in great spirits.

Home . . .

The farm could never be that again, not after what she’d seen there that day. Everyone shot down, blood everywhere . . .

She closed her eyes, shuddering at the very memory.

Revenge was all she could think of, and it consumed her as she followed the tracks left by the men who did the deed. Men who didn’t deserve to live – and they hadn’t lived, not any of them, not once she found them.

She didn’t want to live either, and she remembered placing the barrel of the gun to her head. What reason was there to go on, when everything had been taken away? That’s when Teaspoon and Buck had found her – and given her that reason, that one bit of hope to hang on to.

James was alive.

He was still fighting for life, with all of the strength his four year old body could muster. Like his mother and father, and his namesake uncle, he was a fighter, unfamiliar with the idea of giving up.

The continued rise and fall of his little chest gave her comfort amidst the darkness that defined the rest of her world.

She remembered riding into town that night, and nearly falling as she dismounted. Buck had caught her, carried her into the doctor’s office, placed her by the bedside of her son, her one reason to go on. And she’d been there nearly every moment ever since.

She’d allowed Buck and Teaspoon to lead her numb body to the cemetery the next day, and she’d stayed on her feet only because Buck held her and refused to let her fall. But she had no recollection of any of the words the preacher said, nor of any of the wishes sent her way by the townspeople in attendance. Her only thought had been to get back to James’ side, to make sure that his chest still rose and fell in a steady rhythm.

Teaspoon, Polly, Rachel, Janos – they all stopped in several times a day, checking on her, checking on James. And Buck had practically stayed with her the whole time since they’d come back. He brought her food and made her eat, even though she didn’t want to at all. He held James’ hand when she absolutely couldn’t keep her eyes open a moment longer, and he held her shoulders when she needed to cry.

Just then, even as she was thinking about him, the door to the room opened and Buck walked in, carrying two mugs and a coffee pot. The aroma of the coffee hit her nose as he quietly closed the door, and it made her stomach rumble.

It was the first time in four days she’d actually been aware of being hungry, and she wondered what that meant.

Buck set the mugs down on a small table in the corner and poured the hot liquid into the mugs, then handed one of them to her. He took the other one for himself and sat down next to her.

“Any change?” he asked, his voice very low.

She took a deep breath, almost afraid to say the next words. “I think he is breathin’ a little easier.” Was he really, or did she just so want it to be true?

Buck leaned over and placed the back of one hand against James’ forehead. “He feels cooler, Lou. That’s a good sign.”

She nodded, not trusting herself to say anything; not trusting herself to start believing that. James looked so small in the bed, his skin still so pale . . .

“Polly’s bringing over some food in a bit,” Buck continued, his free hand now reaching for hers. “Do you think you can eat something?”

Her stomach rumbled again, perfect timing to provide an answer. “A little,” she whispered.

Buck paused for a sip of his coffee. “I took care of the animals,” he said. “The horses are at my place. Rachel took the chickens, and the Callahans have the cows and the pig.”

Lou nodded as she raised her mug with a trembling hand. The hot liquid burned as it hit her lips and throat, but in a way that reminded her she was still alive, so it was all right. “Thank you.” She hadn’t really had the time, or the energy, to worry about the livestock, but she supposed she should have.

She wondered how many other things she should have thought about . . .

But nothing was more important than the little boy on the bed, struggling to hang onto life.

She felt Buck’s fingers tighten around hers for a moment, and then he pulled his hand away, moving to put an arm around her shoulders. He held her close as he whispered, “You know I’ll do whatever I can for you, Lou.”

She leaned her head against his shoulder for a moment, just savoring the strength. It was almost as much a comfort as the steady rise and fall of James’ breathing.

And his breathing was coming easier, she was sure of it.

“Buck, I just don’t know what I’m going to do . . .”

“When the doc says James can be moved, you’re both coming to stay with me,” he said firmly, the issue well decided. “For as long as you need, Lou. As long as you want.”

She thought about that for a moment. Buck had purchased a small tract on the other side of town from . . . from the place she had once thought represented her every dream, and which now was only a nightmare.

It would be good to be on the other side of town until . . . until she found a way to live again.

She sighed, leaning her head against him again. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“You don’t have to find out,” he replied gently. “I’m not going anywhere.” He set his mug down and wrapped her securely with both arms, a blanket of comfort. “I’m not going anywhere.”

His Comforting Embrace
by: Helen

It had been too long, since she saw him. The special run she had been sent on had been a long & tiresome one, but going home, to he who owned her heart, was always wonderful. Knowing he would be there ready to wrap her in his love, comfort her when she needed it & he knew she could hold her one when time called for it. She’d had a hard life – just like the rest of her makeshift family. They were a group of young kids lost in the world, trying to make a living from nothing & they had found a family within each other.

As she raced across the plains, her heart began to quicken, just knowing he was going to be home this time, waiting for her, not out on a ride, battling the elements. It had taken her some time to get over her past, but he had always been there. He was her rock, her comfort - her home. She never felt lost when she was by his side. His life had been a tough one too, only his had become worse in some ways all because he refused to give an interview. But when they were together, all their troubles faded away, they were an unstoppable force.

As the sun started slipping behind the mountains, she saw the lights of her hometown ahead. As she got closer she could see his silhouette standing at the coral, watching the horses, waiting for her return. His head rose as he spotted the approaching rider, and she could just imagine the smile that graced his face as he caught site of her.

Within a few minutes she was slowing her horse in front of the Bunkhouse. He took the reins from her as she climbed down from her faithful mount, then he wrapped her in his comforting embrace. She sagged within his arms, revelling in the warmth & in his love. They parted & together, holding hands, walked to the barn with her horse to brush him down before bedding him for the night.

After they saw to the horse, they stood looking into each others eyes. Then, slowly, he leaned down & seized her lips with his own in an intimate kiss. Wrapping their arms around each other, the world melted away – it was just the two of them.

“I’m glad you’re, I missed you” he whispered as their lips parted.

“I missed you too. You were the one thing that kept me from making camp. I’m so tired, I could sleep for a week.” She replied. Then to prove her point, she yawned.

“Come on, let’s get you inside. Rachel’s just made dinner, so you can have something to eat & then get some sleep.” He said as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders & guided her into the bunkhouse.

”It’s a comfort knowing you’re back safe Lou.” Teaspoon called as she entered the Bunkhouse, looking from the couple who just entered, then over to Ike who had his arm in a sling.

Following Teaspoon’s gaze, she saw Ike’s arm & let out a shocked gasp & asked “Ike, what happened? Are you all right?”

Signing, he told her how he was shot trying to get away from some bandits who decided it’d be fun to chase him.

“I’m glad you’re ok.” She replied. Taking a seat at the table, Lou was glad to be home amongst her family After dinner, Lou washed up & got into her bed. It wasn’t long before she had found a comfortable spot & drifted off to sleep to dream of her future & the life she might one day have with Jimmy.

From across the room, Jimmy was laying on his bunk watching her sleep. Hearing her sigh happily, deep in her dreams bought him comfort –he knew she was dreaming of him, of them & of their future.

The End

In The Bottom of a Bottle
by: Miss Raye


He barely noticed the man that sat down beside him, until he tried to cut him off. “Uh, Tommy… I think Ol’ Al here has had about enough for tonight.”

It didn’t really register until someone actually had the audacity to take the bottle out of his hand. That’s when he got mad.  Aloysius Hunter lunged off of his bar stool and took a swing. “Damn you, Erastus!”

Laughing, he sidestepped Teaspoon’s swing. “I’m just tryin’ to save you from yourself, you fool!” He grabbed a hold of Teaspoon’s collar as he stumbled to his knees on the dusty floor.

Reaching back, his fingers clawing at his friend’s hand he struggled to get back on his feet.  “Stop chokin’ me, you ars-“   Suddenly Teaspoon’s nose kissed the floor and the air rushed out of his lungs along with the rest of his thoughts. He came up sputtering and holding his now bleeding nose. “What the hell?”

Erastus was sitting on a nearby stool, his smile as bright as the sunshine and a hundred times more annoying.  “Make up your mind, Hunter… you don’t want me to help. You do. Pick one thought and stick with it.” Looking down at the bottle in his hand he shrugged. “Might be a bit hard right now… if you’ve had all this by yourself.”

The bartender paused while wiping the bar and gave Erastus a shrug… and then a nod.

“You done it good this time, Hunter.”

Teaspoon got up to his knees and then onto his feet. “Erastus… either give me the bottle or I’ll have to take it from you.”

The look on his friend’s face said he didn’t think Teaspoon could do much of anything, but he offered another option.  “How about I join you instead.”

Pulling himself up onto a stool, Teaspoon raised his hand for another bottle. “I’ll take the fresh one… on his account.”

Erastus didn’t argue, but he didn’t look happy either.  Taking a long swig from the bottle he looked over at his friend. “What’s got your knickers in a twist, Hunter?”

Teaspoon poured himself a hefty glass full of tequila. “What isn’t wrong… answer me that.”

The friends shared a few moments of alcohol induced silence before Teaspoon blurted out the cause of the whole mess.

“I lost Polly.”

Setting the bottle down, Erastus wiped at the liquid on his lips. “Oh, really… Hm. Then find her.”

The glass dropped from Teaspoon’s fingers. “It’s not like I took her out for a walk and misplaced her, dammit. She left me.”

Erastus finished his bottle and ordered another. “Then get her back.”

Teaspoon sucked down another slurp and sighed. “She found someone else.”

“Oh damn.” Erastus bounced his fingers off the top of the bar and searched for the words. “Damn, boy… I have no idea what to tell you.”

Laughter was the only response. “Just sit here and drink with me, Erastus… I’ll find all the comfort I need,” he swished the bottle around, watching the amber liquid swirl in the oily lamplight of the bar, “in the bottom of this bottle. “

Erastus tossed a half-eagle on the bar and grinned. “Good enough for me.”
Cold Comfort
by: Lori

A/N: A continuation of Single White Female from my CD challenge of the same name. Helps to read that before this.

For Raye, who asked for a contiuation.

“Where is she?”

Teaspoon looked up as Mr. and Mrs. Howard stormed into his office and charged towards Jimmy who was standing by the pot-bellied stove pouring himself a cup of coffee. Despite the rest of the town now calling him James, as he preferred, Teaspoon would always think of his deputy as Jimmy and the young man had accepted he was too set in his ways to change. Jimmy put the coffee pot back on the stove, set the folded towel on the table beside it and turned to face the irate couple.

“Where is who?” he asked, before blowing on his coffee and taking a sip.

“Our daughter!” Mr. Howard shouted, his face infused with great red splotches of anger. “She’s missing and I know you had something to do with it. We went to Blue Creek last weekend and when we came home Emmaline’s things were missing. There was no note from her; not a single word. Mr. Watros said you weren’t in church on Sunday and so I know you had something to do with this.”

Teaspoon could see the hard glint of anger settle into Jimmy’s eye and he stepped forward before the young man said something rash that completely upset the situation. “Mr. Howard,” he smiled genially, as if the man hadn’t been standing there shouting at his deputy. “I’m afraid it’s impossible for Jimmy here to have had anything to do with your daughter’s…absence from home. He was escorting a prisoner to Fort Kearny during that time. He left Friday morning and didn’t return until Tuesday, which was yesterday.”

“How do we know you’re just not covering for him?” Mrs. Howard now demanded. “You hired him, you told everyone in town we weren’t being fair to him, of course you’d give him an excuse and say he was somewhere else.”

“If you don’t believe him, ma’am,” Jimmy said, just a hint of irritation entering his voice on the last word, “Perhaps you’d like to see the receipt for the blacksmith in Rosewood for the new shoe I had to put on my horse. That’s not too far from Fort Kearny. Or perhaps you’d like to ask Marshal Hunter to write to the commander of the fort? Do you trust the Army, ma’am?”

She spluttered for a moment before tightly shutting her mouth, her lips compressing into a thin line. When she looked away, Mr. Howard resumed the campaign. “We know you don’t like us, Wild Bill. You can understand though, after we’ve seen you looking at our daughter, how we would think you had something to do with her disappearance.”

Jimmy’s jaw clenched tight and Teaspoon could see a vein tick slightly on the side. The young man took a deep breath, and then bit out, “Did you ever think that perhaps she left on her own free will? Left to get away from you?”

Mrs. Howard gasped while her husband thundered, “How dare you?! How dare you talk to me this way!”

“You don’t know anything about our family,” Mrs. Howard pointed a stern finger at him.

“I know that the two of you treat your daughter in a way I wouldn’t treat an animal I hated. You want to fob her off onto Mr. Watros, a man who hasn’t got the common sense of a goat and who would make your daughter miserable. But he looks respectable, and that’s all you narrow-minded simpletons care about. When your daughter dared to stand up and speak her own mind, expressing a thought the pair of you didn’t approve of, you hit your own child.”

Jimmy narrowed his eyes slightly and edged closer to Mr. Howard, the taller deputy straightening up and looming over the rotund man. “I can’t stand men who hit their wives and children. Who think that they can rule like tyrants in their home simply because they’re men. Real men don’t use fear and intimidation on people they’re supposed to love and care for. You are nothing more than a common bully, and if you’re wondering why your daughter left, I suggest you go home and look in a mirror.”

He turned away, walked to his chair and sat down, his back deliberately shown to the irate couple. “I have nothing more to say to you, Mr. and Mrs. Howard.”

“Marshal,” Mrs. Howard suddenly turned towards him, imploring him. “Please, Marshal Hunter, you’ve got to help us find Emmaline.”

“When was the last time you saw her?” he asked.

“Friday, as we were getting ready to leave for Blue Creek.”

“When did you get home?”

“Mid-morning on Monday,” Mr. Howard answered. “That’s when we noticed she was missing and when we asked around, Mr. Watros told us both she and your deputy had not been in church on Sunday. So we waited until he showed his face and came over to find out where he took our daughter.”

“Well, as Jimmy told you,” Teaspoon said, just a hint of irritation and steel entering his own voice, “Jimmy was gone before you fine folks left and he doesn’t know anything about your daughter leaving town. So I suggest, before you start making other wild accusations that you both calm down and think about where she might have gone.”

He continued on by saying, “I’ll go over and talk to Clarence in the stagecoach office, see if he has any information that might help us.”

If it wasn’t for the fact that he liked Emmaline Howard and thought she was a kind and decent woman, who was nothing at all like her parents, Teaspoon wouldn’t have made the offer. He wanted to make sure no harm came to the young lady, and he had a strong suspicion that Jimmy did as well, even if he was pretending not to particularly care about the matter. He knew that was just a ruse because the parents were still here; Teaspoon had seen the boy hopping mad when he came back and recounted how Emmaline had an obvious bruise, even though it was fading, on her cheek and neither lawman had any illusions about how it got there. They’d both seen their fair share of men abusing women and children, and Joseph Howard was just the sort of man who would try to impose his will cruelly and ruthlessly, no matter what the town thought of him.

“Then what are we waiting for?” the angry father asked. “Let’s go talk to him now.”

Teaspoon tilted his head to the side and held out his hand to slow the pair down. “I know you’re concerned about your daughter, Mr. Howard, but I sometimes find that people are more open when there’s just one person around askin’ the questions. So I’ll go talk to Clarence, and then I’ll let you know what he had to say.”

“Let’s go, Joseph,” Mrs. Howard said with a displeased sniff. “Clearly Marshal Hunter doesn’t want us around. I need to lie down, Joseph, my head aches terribly.”

“Of course,” her husband said, softening just slightly. He slipped his arm around her waist and steered her for the door. As they reached the entryway, he stopped and looked back over his shoulder and said, “I expect to hear from you soon, Marshal.”

“Just as soon as I know anything,” he vowed and gave a tip of his hat as the couple left.

Once they were across the street and back on their way to their home, Teaspoon leaned against his desk and looked over at Jimmy, “Do you know anything about Emmaline Howard leaving town?”

When the younger man looked at him in disbelief, he said with a shrug, “I’ve seen you speak with her several times in the last couple of weeks. She’s been pretty tight-lipped around the rest of the town, but you’re one of the few people she’s spoken to. You and Mr. Lovelace over at the newspaper office. I was merely askin’, Jimmy, if she might have said anything?”

Jimmy shook his head with a sigh, “No. Mostly she just said hello to me when we passed. Nothing made me think she was leavin’.”

“Alright,” Teaspoon nodded slowly, not entirely surprised by the answer but disappointed nonetheless. “I’m gonna go talk to Clarence. Better do it sooner rather than later or I’ll have Mr. Howard back over here and I’d just as soon avoid another scene like that.”

“Yeah,” his deputy said with a disgruntled snort. “Hey, Teaspoon…let me know what he says, will ya? And if you want…I’ll talk to Mr. Lovelace.”

“Let’s see what Clarence has to say first, Jimmy. And don’t worry, I’ll let you know if he has any information on Emmaline.”

As he left the marshal’s office, Teaspoon couldn’t stop the grin tugging at his lips. He rather suspected Jimmy didn’t have any idea, but Mr. Howard was right; Jimmy did look at Emmaline Howard differently from the other women in town, and he’d kept an eye out for her, especially after she spoke up in Tompkins’ store. He’d be awfully surprised if it was just ‘cause the boy felt grateful towards her. There was more there; it was just a matter of what, if anything, came out of it when Jimmy realized it.

~*~*~*~

The old adage of ‘no news is good news’ was a crock. At least to James’ thinking, anyways. He had no idea where Emmaline Howard was, and he didn’t like that. So what, he’d wanted to tell Teaspoon when the older man offered it up as consolation, that a telegram hadn’t arrived indicating she was hurt or in trouble? Just because they didn’t hear about anything bad happening to her didn’t mean that something hadn’t. News was too unpredictable and unreliable around here to put trust in a lack of information.

Look at the lack of information Clarence and Mr. Lovelace had provided. If James were a gambling man, he would have bet everything that both men knew something about Emmaline’s departure from town. Both men, however, said that they didn’t know where she was. Yes, she’d left on the stage early Saturday morning, but Clarence was getting on in years and he couldn’t remember if she’d left on the stage heading towards St. Joseph or if it was the stage heading towards Salt Lake City. They’d both passed through within a short time of each other and he couldn’t entirely remember which one she’d boarded, especially since he’d apparently forgotten to record it in the passenger log.

Mr. Lovelace said that Emmaline Howard was a kind-hearted young woman who was curious about a great many things. She always liked to watch him work on the newspaper; that was the only explanation he offered for the hours she spent in his company the past couple of weeks. Nobody really believed it, because the amount of time Emmaline spent at Lovelace’s shop increased after her father hit her, but there wasn’t any way they could prove it wasn’t exactly as the newspaper man claimed.

While Teaspoon and James were concerned about Emmaline and wanted to help her, Clarence and Mr. Lovelace were loyal to her and wouldn’t even trust the lawmen. It helped James feel better that she had people looking out for her, but it also bothered him that he wasn’t privy to the information. Her troubles had started after she’d defended him, and he felt that he should do something more, besides stare blankly at her parents when they came to yell at him.

Each day that passed, he found himself thinking more and more about Emmaline Howard. He tried to think back when he first came to town and what his impressions of her were, but during that time, when the majority of the town seemed against him being hired as Teaspoon’s deputy, he was more concerned with keeping his temper in check and going about proving that he could do the job and stay out of trouble. He remembered seeing her with her parents at town socials and church, but he’d never gave her that much thought. Joseph Howard was one of the leading crusaders trying to keep him from working and living in Rock Creek and he didn’t have the kindest thoughts towards any member of the man’s family.

However, when James saw Emmaline around town, especially when she was away from her parents, he could see the kindness and compassion she possessed. She wasn’t like some of the other women in town who only helped others because they would be labeled as unchristian if they allowed some family to freeze or starve because their house had suffered a fire. Emmaline had pitched right in, helping with the children, rolling up her sleeves and cleaning, going home at the end of the day tired, sore and covered with soot. She hadn’t complained, she hadn’t helped out once and then never returned; she did all she could to help out.

So as he sat thinking about her defense of him that day in Tompkins’ store, Jimmy was no longer surprised by her words. It seemed to fit with the belief he now held that she never saw him as Wild Bill, and she didn’t judge him. She didn’t hold her parents’ prejudices, and he’d seen her on more than one occasion stand up for someone else. Her defense of him was a natural part of who she was, and he felt touched that she had spoken up on his behalf.

If there was anything deeper to what he felt towards Emmaline Howard than mere admiration for a kind woman, someone who reminded him of the other women in his life that he admired – Emma, Rachel and Lou, he wasn’t willing to admit it yet. He told himself that he would look out for any of his friends, and he merely wanted to know that she was safe and well. The reasons he found it hard to sleep at night were certainly not because he found himself thinking on Emmaline’s beauty. It was merely worrying about the unknown.

Tired, dejected and just wanting to head to his rented room above the marshal’s office, James closed and locked the door and then turned towards the stairs around the corner. He was glad he didn’t have to venture out from under the wooden overhang since it was a cold, wet and miserable day. As he rounded the corner, he stopped short to avoid hitting Mr. Lovelace who was standing at the base of the stairs.

“Deputy Hickok,” the older man said with a congenial nod of his head.

“Mr. Lovelace,” James returned the greeting. “Is there something you needed?”

“A moment of your time,” the newspaper owner told him.

James was a bit surprised, but he nodded and gestured back towards the jail. “You want to come inside?”

“No, thank you,” the man shook his head. “I don’t want to stay long and arouse suspicion, but I wanted to talk to you about Emmaline.”

Instantly alert, he asked, “What about her? Have you heard from her? Is she alright?”

“As far as I know, she is,” Mr. Lovelace answered. “But I do know a bit more than I have led Marshal Hunter or her parents to know.”

“Figured as much,” James said, trying not to let impatience enter his voice. “So what does this have to do with me?”

“One of the subjects we talked about, aside from her plans to leave Rock Creek, was you, Deputy. I figure if there’s anyone I’m gonna give this information to, it’s you. Now, what you do with it…I’m trusting you, young man, so practice discretion.”

Reining in his temper over being lectured, he nodded. Warmth had flooded him when he suddenly realized he might actually find out where Emmaline had gone. He would put up with being chastised like a school boy simply to gain that information. “I understand, Mr. Lovelace.”

“Good,” the older man smiled. “Because actually….I do know where Emmaline is.”

To Be Continued…

Man's Tears
by: Paola

It could be barely heard, that slight noise in the silence of the bunkhouse, but it was enough to interrupt my already disturbed sleep.

Kid is crying, trying to suffocate his sobs.

My heart brakes at this sounds. Kid had met his older brother again after years of separation only to lose him forever just a week after. He was so happy, and so proud of Jed had became…but he wasn’t the decent man we thought, he did care about Kid, but he was also an outlaw and a murderer.

We were forced to take side against him and this tore Kid inside. He tried until the last moment to convince his brother to do the right thing, but all his efforts have been useless. Jimmy was forced to shoot at Jed and he died in Kid’s arms.

I never saw a man cry before.

Kid didn’t wail, he didn’t curse at Jimmy or yell at us or Sam; he simply stood there, holding his dead brother, crying silently until they came to get the corpse.

He didn’t shed any more tears in front of us, but he was devastated, everyone could tell that.

I slip out of my bunk and lay under the blanket beside him. Kid is facing the wall and I hug him from behind, whispering soothingly in his ear, as I was used to do when my little brother Jeremiah was scared by nightmare.

Suddenly he turns and embraces me, hiding his face against my chest, wetting the front of my longjohns with his tears. I felt his hot breath near my skin, his lips that brush my breast and I panic.

I’ve never been this close to a man since Wicks and, even if I like Kid and felt comfortable with him, this is too much for me. I tense, withdrawing from him, but then I realize Kid isn’t aware of what he’s doing, he’s murmuring Jed’s name in his sleep.

I relax again and return to wrap my arms around his shoulder, caressing softly his hairs. Kid needs comfort this night. And I’m ready to give it to him.

That
by: Leah

The baby had started crying and no one, not even Ike could get her to stop. They’d tried rocking her, talking to her, patting her back, Jimmy even offered to yell at her, but was stopped quickly. They all sat there around the table the baby in her bassinet still crying when Cody stood up and walked away from the group.

As he began digging through his trunk he mumbled to himself with the others only catching snatches of his words, “…where…..here….gotta…..little….” All of a sudden Cody jumped up and turned rather dramatically walked over to the baby and with great flourish pulled out a small ratty looking stuffed pig. “TA DA” he said, and looked at the baby expectantly.

“She ain’t gonna clap Cody.” Jimmy said with a laugh

“What is that Cody?” Kid asked trying to suppress a laugh.

“It’s Little Piggy.” Cody said as if that explained everything. “When I was little my sister used to give me this to hold if I wouldn’t stop crying. She found it in a box and sent it to me not that long ago.”

The others were trying hard to hide grins as they watched Cody holding the Piggy above the baby who was thoroughly unimpressed and continued to cry. He placed Piggy into the bassinet but it didn’t help.

*What about this?* Ike said and walked to his trunk and pulled out a well loved and somewhat ratty square of fabric. *It was a blanket I had and then my sister had when we were little.* Ike walked over and laid it down next to the baby, who though she rubbed her head against it, continued to cry.

Kid stood and began digging through his trunk and found his special toy from childhood. A well chewed piece of wood carved to look like a squirrel. He brought it over and handed it to the baby who immediately let it drop with a thud and continued her crying.

Buck stood up and said, “Guess it’s my turn, I remember the mothers often wore beaded necklaces and the babies would play with them.” So saying he turned and went to his bunk dug inside a small bag and pulled out a necklace of beads with a feather attached. He gave it an experimental shake and then walked back to the baby and stood over her bassinet and said, “Please stop crying?” and then gave the necklace a shake. The baby looked up at the sound but continued to cry so Buck put the necklace in with her.

Jimmy walked over to the baby and said, “Look kid. I’d give you my gun if I thought it’d help. Teaspoon already said spurs weren’t any good. Can’t you just tell us what you want?” As the baby continued to cry he said, “Right guess not.” Then turned and went over to his trunk and began digging through it, finally finding a small mirror. Bringing it over he held it up so the baby could see herself. “Well she’s a girl ain’t she.” He said to the others with a shrug of his shoulders and a smirk on his face. The baby however seemed to think this was insulting and began to cry if it were possible even louder.

Luckily Teaspoon walked in. “What’s going on here boys?” He said as he walked over to the bassinet to pick up the screaming baby who was now covered with all of the something specials the boys had given here to stop here crying.
Stifling a laugh he said, “Boys it’s not a good idea to smother the baby like that.”

Scooping her out he cuddled her for a few minutes and then picked up a bottle told Jimmy to fill it and warm it. Turning he said “Boys I don’t know why you tried to bury her but, all you needed to do was feed her.”

“Feed her?” Cody asked shocked, “Teaspoon it’s the middle of the night. It ain’t time for breakfast yet.”

“Babies make up their own schedules son.” Teaspoon said taking the warmed bottle and giving it to the baby who immediately calmed down and ate happily. Once she was fed and burped, Teaspoon said, “Boys take your things and head on back to bed.” As he laid the baby back in her bassinet and walked to the door.

“Dang” said Cody as he climbed into his bunk. “Now I’m hungry.”

“Cody?” Started Jimmy a concerned look on his face, “Do you need me to heat up a bottle for you too?” his voice a little too sweet to be true concern for Cody’s hunger pangs.

Everyone laughed. Everyone climbed back into their beds with their special comforts still in their hands. Somehow everyone forgot to put them away that night.
Take My Hand
by: Miss Raye

The funeral was a short one. Death bore no attraction for the people that loved them, for the preferred to remember them in life.  Teaspoon spoke before the gathering, his hand clutched around the worn Bible as if it would keep him on his feet.

Rachel and her family stood beside him.  Her husband carrying their youngest offered her words of love and understanding as she sobbed into her kerchief, her elder daughter gripping at her mother’s skirts, eyes tearing, but not quite understanding the true meaning of the sadness around her.

Buck stood back from the group, his hands folded behind his back eyes cast down to the dirt as the undertaker and his assistant lowered one and then the other casket into the earth.  He wondered if Cody was still on his way… or if his show had kept him away.  It was hard to see the lack of family, especially when they were burying two of their own.

Two that they all loved beyond reason.

Two that were leaving behind one.

He looked over at the single chair beside the graves and felt his heart constrict. They’d known that the ceremony would be too long for her to stand… too much for her to bear all at once and so they’d brought the chair out in Rachel’s wagon.

Elizabeth wore her best dress, the last dress her father had bought her… the last gift she would have before her parents took a train and found themselves in the middle of the worst derailing in years.

Father Kingsley gave Elizabeth a pat on her shoulder and left the cemetery with a sympathetic smile for all.

Rachel leaned into Teaspoon and whispered that she’d head on back to the house and get ready for their visitors. Taking her daughter in hand she walked away, patting away the tears she shed for her lost friends.

Then it was just the three; the half-breed uncle, the old dotty lawman and the little girl with a broken heart.

Buck knelt first because his knees didn’t need a moment of rest beforehand and he peer beneath the fringe of her bangs to see her soft brown eyes.  “Beth? Everyone’s gone, sweetheart. It’s just me and Teaspoon left.”

She nodded and stared at her knees while her feet rocked back and forth on the rung of the chair. “I want to stay.”

Teaspoon held the back of the chair and managed to get down on one knee beside her.  “Honey… we’ve got supper all ready at Rachel’s… she made your favorite cake for later. Come on…” he held out his hand but she just stared, her eyes glassy with tears.
Buck’s heart went out to the little girl. “Beth, I-”

“Where do I go now?” She slipped off the chair and walked between them, stopping beside the grave to watch the diggers shovel dirt onto the coffins. “Where do I go? Mama and Papa were home. Where they were, I was safe. “Elizabeth sank down into the upturned dirt at her feet and hung her head.

Buck reached her first. He held out his hand and touched her shoulder. “Lizzy, take my hand.”

She waited a moment, her gaze travelling from the rapidly filling graves to Buck’s hand. Her eyes were filled with desperate confusion and yet, there was hope shining from the depths of her soul. Slowly she reached out and put her hand in his. “And?”

Pulling her into his embrace he held her tightly as he fought his own tears over the loss of his friends.  “You can live with me if you want, sweetheart. You can live with me, right here in town, if that will make you happy.”

“You’ll be my family?” She pulled back to see his face…waiting for his answer.

He brushed back the stray strands of hair that had blown across her face. “You’ve always been my family, Elizabeth… and you always will be.”
A Muddy Surprise
by: Jo

The storm clouds that had been threatening all day finally let loose. Buck pulled his cloth coat tighter against his body; he was miles from home. “Wonderful” He grumbled. The horse shook his head as if to say ‘I’m not exactly happy about being out here either.’ “Come on boy, I know you want your nice warm barn but we need to get there first.” Buck spoke soothingly to the animal and patted his neck.

They’d gone about half way when the horse stopped short from a moderate canter. Buck wasn’t prepared for this and went sailing right over the horse’s head into a rather large puddle of icy cold mud. He landed flat on his back and slid, mud found its way into every possible opening in his clothing it could find. Buck sat up swearing loudly, spitting out mud and wiping it out of his eyes; he had to blow his nose several time to get all the goo out. The horse walked carefully around the mud puddle and stood waiting for Buck on the other side but he wasn’t alone. A soaking wet, mud covered kitten not much bigger than Buck’s fist, looked at him and blinked. The horse nudged the kitten with his large head; it let out a pitiful meow that tore at Buck’s heart. “You look like you’re having a wonderful day too, where’s your mama?” Buck picked himself up and reached down for the tiny bundle of fur. The kitten allowed him to pick it up and brush some of the mud off of it. “I know there’s a kitten in there somewhere but man are you a mess.” The kitten was so cold it was shaking. “I can’t leave you like this, here maybe this will help you warm up.” He stuffed the kitten inside his shirt. A quick look around the area did not yield any more kittens or a mother cat so Buck remounted carefully and started for home.

At first the kitten was frightened by the movement of the horse and rider and sunk its claws firmly into Buck, clinging to him for dear life. After a painful mile or so it calmed down and instead of pain Buck felt a vibration against his chest. He couldn’t hear it but he knew the kitten was purring; a tiny pink nose poked out between the buttons of his shirt. “At least one of us is comfortable!” he muttered as the wind lashed his face with the cold rain which was fast becoming sleet. He had to admit the kitten was good for warmth and there was something comforting about its purr.

It was well after dark when Buck finally saw the lights of Rock Creek come into view. He longed for his bed, clean clothes and a hot meal but he knew the horse had to be cared for first so he rode up to the barn. He dismounted, opened the door and led the horse to its stall. The rain was loud on the roof and he figured no one had heard him ride in. The kitten was still snuggled comfortably in his shirt.

He was undoing the chinch when Noah called out. “Hey Buck, we’ve been worried about you, I’ll get the horse, Lou just took some dry clothes for you over to Rachel’s and I know she talked about keeping some supper warm for you so git before she comes out and gets you herself.”

“Thanks Noah, which one are you talkin’ about Lou or Rachel?” Buck joked.

“Does it matter? Either of them mad is bad for us! How did you get so muddy?” Noah pulled the saddle off the streaming horse. “Could you two be any wetter?” Noah turned his attention to the horse that wasn’t in a good mood and let him know it by stamping his feet. “Alright all ready, I’m workin’ as fast as I can, here, have some oats.”

Buck turned toward the house and, deciding that coming in the front door would not be the smartest thing to do, ran around to the back. The kitten didn’t like the running and again sunk all of its claws into Buck. Buck grimaced as Rachel opened the door. “Buck, you’re soaked! You must be half frozen, are you hurt?” Rachel asked seeing the look on his face. She guided him into the warm kitchen and started to help him get his coat off.

“OH!” Lou squeaked jumping away from Buck. “Buck, what’s in your shirt? I saw a face!” Lou, without taking her eyes off Buck’s shirt, took Buck’s coat from Rachel and hung it over a chair to dry. A puddle was forming around his feet.

“Buck?” Rachel asked as Buck’s shirt moved on its own.

“Uh, I couldn’t leave it….its so little….it might even be cute but I can’t tell….” Buck unbuttoned his shirt and the kitten emerged. It fit in the palm of his hand but other than two huge round blue eyes and a little pink nose the kitten was so covered in mud, now dried where it had rested against Buck’s skin, the color of its fur was a mystery.

“Awe, the poor thing….” Lou fell in love. “Of course you couldn’t leave it.”

“Um, well, I think a bath is in order for both you and the kitten, Buck, mud room, Now! Lou and I had been filling the tub in case you came home so the water is hot. Lou put your clothes on the chair and there’s a towel on the door. Toss your boots back in here so I can dry them by the stove while you get some of that mud off of you and the cat….good luck!” Rachel smiled pleasantly as she handed him the soap. “I’ll have supper waitin’ on you.”

Buck put the kitten down once he closed the door and stripped off his clothes. His boots proved to be full of water which spilled over the floor when he removed them. He hid behind the door and tossed them into the kitchen to two giggling women. A chorus of thank you’s followed. He wondered what they were laughing about.

Buck sank down into the warm water and let it soak into his bones, warming him while he just lay there relaxing. Finally the water began to cool off so he decided he’d wash up quickly then bathe the kitten. Washing the mud out of his hair took longer then he expected and he wasn’t looking forward to washing the mud out of his tiny new friend’s fur.

The kitten had made some progress on its own cleaning one paw and much of its face but there was still a lot of mud on the kitten. Buck reached over and scooped the furball up in his hand. He wasn’t really holding it tightly so when the kitten got the first touch of the water it wiggled out of his grasp and ran up his arm, claws extended. Buck cried out in surprise and recaptured the kitten. Giggles from the kitchen reached his ears. Buck set his jaw and proceeded to scrub the mud off a very loud kitten.

“How can something this small make that much noise? I’m trying to help you…OWWW!” he yelped as the kitten caught the tender flesh of his chest and tried to escape the water. Several painful bloody minutes later, the kitten’s fur was mostly mud free. “Well you probably are kinda cute but right now you look like a drowned rat. You have freckles on your nose! How about Freckles for a name?” Buck chuckled as he wrapped the kitten in the towel he was supposed to use to dry himself. Freckles curled up in the towel and fell asleep. Buck dressed his damp body in his clean dry clothes but didn’t button his shirt. He wanted the scratches to stop bleeding first.

Rachel had a steaming bowl of stew waiting for him and some bread soaked in warm milk for the kitten. She even had a damp rag waiting to clean up the scratches on his chest and arms. Buck wasn’t sure what she used but the stuff on the rag stung almost as much as the scratches did at first. Lou had thought to bring an old pair of boots over for Buck to wear back to the bunkhouse so he didn’t have to put on the soaking wet ones again.

Finally warm and clean both inside and out Buck helped Lou and Rachel clean up the mess he made and got ready to head over to the bunkhouse for a much deserved rest. “Buck, you forgot Freckles, the kitten goes with you…..” Rachel reminded him. Dried up and fluffy now the kitten was mostly white with patches of brown and black all over; one on its left shoulder looked like a heart.

Freckles scratched at the door as if asking to go outside. “See it wants to go with you.” Lou laughed. “Is it a boy or a girl?” Buck shrugged.

Freckles was doing a little kitten dance and Rachel laughed as she opened the door. “I think Freckles is already housebroken Buck! Wait a minute it will want in.” and sure enough a minute or two later a soft scratch was heard. Rachel grabbed a rag and opened the door allowing the kitten to enter. She scooped it up and cleaned the muddy paws, checked the kitten over and handed Buck the kitten. “Freckles is a he! Good night Buck, sleep well.”

Buck and Lou hurried over to the bunkhouse trying to avoid getting soaked and opened the door to find everyone else already in bed. They got ready for bed quietly and let Freckles explore his new home. Buck crawled into his bunk and sunk his head into the familiar comfort of his pillows, turned on his side and was just falling asleep when he felt something jump onto the bed. Freckles snuggled himself down next to Buck’s chest and began to purr. Buck felt like purring too. He was home.

Sunlight
by: Miss Raye

Sunlight. Sunlight is evil.

Jimmy cracked open one eye and looked over at the window. He’d gone to sleep last night and hadn’t closed the drapes. He’d been… busy with other things and had forgotten. Well, if he was going to be truthful, he didn’t bother closing the drapes… he hadn’t cared one bit.

Hadn’t cared because he’d had a woman wrapped around him when he’d been standing, and by the time he’d gotten to lie down on the bed with her, he wasn’t thinking about sunlight.

He was thinking about how many times he was going to make her scream… then he wasn’t thinking at all.

Now, as he slid his hand up the sheet to shield his eyes he had one thought in his head. ‘Did I eat my shirt?’ His other hand swept past his mouth and he slid his tongue across the skin on the back of his hand, trying to get the feel of cotton out of his mouth. It didn’t do much to help, but it was worth the try.

The salt that he tasted on his tongue had an unexpected result. It cleared a little bit of the haze in his head. A little, but only enough to draw out some of the memories of the night before.

She was a red head. He was drunk. That about summed it up, but didn’t bring it all back.

He’d been through three bars and two fights before he’d found her. A woman broad enough in the bust and loose enough in her morals to take away the pain he’d been through. She’d been willing enough, even before he offered her the half-eagle to follow him back to his room.

She’d grabbed a bottle and a coin from his pocket and tossed it at the bartender, loudly calling back over her shoulder telling him where she’d be for the rest of the night.

*====*

They’d made use of the bed alright. The bed and at least one of the chairs, but there wasn’t much of a hazy memory about much of that. There wasn’t much about the memories that didn’t involve alcohol as medicine and a heart that was bleeding out in pain. She’d come to his arms and let him use her body, but she’d turned away when he wanted a kiss… turned away and washed her mouth out with liquor when she finished.
It was cold, but it was truthful. It was cold, but he was doing the same thing. Using her.

He wanted a warm woman beneath him… she wanted his money in her pocket. They both got what they wanted, but somehow Jimmy doubted her head was ready to split open this morning. She’d gotten the best of him.

*====*

Rolling over, Jimmy reached for his pants and tugged it off the chair, barely seeing the curve of leather that was his gun belt sliding to the floor. A second passed by before he realized what the knot in his stomach was from. His belt hit the floor, but there wasn’t any sound that accompanied the action. Leather piled on the floor out of his reach, but where were his guns.

He grabbed the sheets and threadbare blanket in both hands and shook, nothing but wind.

He leaned over the edge of the bed in case they had fallen during the night.

Nothing but dust and age. Nothing.

Boots pounded up the stairs along the outer wall and Jimmy felt the bottom of his stomach twist as bile rose up in his throat. She’d taken the guns… and left him, alone.

He didn’t bother to pull on any clothes. There wasn’t time.

He didn’t bother to say his prayers, he wasn’t going to lie to himself, and he knew where he was going.

He sat up in bed and faced the men as they burst through his door.

One of them paused long enough to snarl to his friends over his shoulder. “Humph… Wild Bill. Let’s see how wild you are now?”

He didn’t bother to close his eyes when the bullets flew. He met death head on.
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